iBoy One Year Later: A Serious Game Platform?

By Mike on 8:00 am

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About a year ago, Apple announced it would be bringing gaming to it's iPhone and iPod Touch lines. At the time it was just a proof of concept and gaming wasn't officially introduced until the iPhone 3G was in June. According to Apple, the iPhone has made it's mark as a viable gaming platform over the past year. However, there's one problem with that. What defines a viable gaming platform? I would define it as a device that sells at least 10 million units in which gaming is a primary attraction to the device. The iPhone is not a game console, but neither is a PC. However, many people use their PCs primarily for gaming so therefore it would be a viable platform. While the iPhone passes the sales test, I do not believe gaming is the primary reason people buy the device.

In terms of the games themselves, the iPhone has become a platform for a large amount of shovelware. In computer jargon, this refers to software that is produced in mass quantity, usually sold at a vary low cost, and has vary limited usefulness and is of low quality. I would estimate that 95% of iPhone games fit into this category. The vast majority sell for as low as $0.99, making them quick, mindless impulse purchases. For these titles, gameplay is usually vary limited, consisting of what you'd expect from online Flash games. Take iBowl for example, a free bowling game. You basically just swing the iPhone like a ball and you hit the pins. A lot of the pay games are like this too. Vary primitive that only offer a slight distraction of a minute or too. This appeals to some; non-gamers in particular who are looking to kill a minute waiting for the bus. However, this hardly makes it a gaming platform as just about any mobile device offers something similar. The iPhone also offers some titles from larger developers such as Sega and EA. Sim City for example has proven popular but once again it's a more primitive version of what is available on other portable systems. The iPhone lacks exclusive, high quality titles from major developers so it's not going to attract more gaming oriented people to the platform. As a platform for indie games, it mostly attracts people looking to make vary basic games for a quick buch rather than serious developers.

Aside from the general low quality of the games, the iPhone is also not an ideal platform for playing games to begin with. It uses the same basic motion sensing features Sony's Dualshock 3 controller has, along with the touch screen. Controls feel more complex than they need to be due to these limiting factors. A DS style stylus would have made things easier and the fact that it is limited to essentially a direction stick and one button really hampers what developers can do with it. This is a stark contrast to the DS and PSP which have kept conventional control systems. Apple's promise of turning the iPhone into a viable third handheld has not happened, and will likely never happen. It is not practical for gaming and poses no threat at all to the PSP or DS.

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